Countdown to Racing the Planet Patagonia

I LOVE multi-day racing (or ‘active holidays’ as they’re affectionately known as in our house). So far they’ve taken me to Wadi Rum and Petra in Jordan, the Andes mountains in Ecuador, and the Atacama desert in Chile….basically if there’s a multi-day race in a location I want to visit on holiday, then I’m in. And when Racing the Planet announced that their 2017 Roving Race was going to be in Patagonia, it took me all of about 0.03 seconds to sign up.

And what’s not to love about multi-day racing?! For a week all you have to do is run, recover, eat, sleep, repeat. Throw in an amazing location and some fantastic fellow runners who you’ll end up as life-long friends with, and I really can’t think of a better way to spend a week. Even eating freeze-dried food with a ‘spork’, poo-ing in a hole, and not showering for a week can’t take the gloss off a multi-day race for me….or maybe I just have strange taste in ‘holidays’!

Over the years I’ve come to learn what works and doesn’t work for me, and I’ve fine-tuned my kit and nutrition – I’m no longer the rookie that didn’t understand the importance of variety and took so many freeze-dried veggie cottage pies, Clif bars and veggie Percy Pigs to my first race….it took me 2 years to be able to eat a Clif bar again and I still can’t stomach freeze-dried cottage pie!

Kit and nutrition is a really personal thing, and one size doesn’t fit all, so it’s crucial to test out what works for you, but these are a few of my favourite things for multi-day racing.

Kit

A lot of the kit is mandatory kit specified by RTP so I won’t list everything, but here’s a few items that warrant a special mention for me:

Ultimate Direction 30l Fastpack – I’m a huge fan of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack range and this 30l version fits like a vest at the front and I don’t get any bounce with it. I used it in last year’s Atacama Crossing and a smaller capacity version for running the CCC route over 3 days in the summer, and have never had any rubbing or issues with them. I had hoped to use a smaller capacity this time, but RTP have added a few more mandatory items to the kit list so I’ve decided to stick with the 30l.

Marmot Phase 20 Sleeping Bag – the two most important things I need in multi-day racing are sleep and food. As long as I have enough of both, then I know I can get up and run well everyday. And one thing I will never scrimp on is a good quality sleeping bag. I used this Marmot one up to 21,000 feet on Everest this year so I know it will keep me snug whatever the temperatures drop to in Patagonia. Hand in hand with my sleeping bag is my Thermarest Neoair Sleeping Mat – it’s only the half size version but provides a much more comfy night’s sleep than you’d imagine. Some people try and save weight by doing away with a sleeping mat, and without fail it always ends in tears (well sleepless night sleeps!).

Hoka Speedgoat – trainers in particular are even more of a personal choice, but I want a trainer with plenty of protection when I’m racing on consecutive days, and I’ve used Hokas on all three of my previous multi-day races. I know they feel as comfy after 150 miles as they do on day 1, and I’ve never had a blister during any race. This time I’m using the Hoka Speedgoat as they’re designed for more mountainous terrain.

Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket – Patagonia is likely to be wet….perfect for us Brits! My Inov-8 waterproof jacket has been tested on some pretty grim conditions in this country so I have every confidence it can stand whatever the Patagonia weather throws at us. Waterproof trousers are also mandatory kit this time and the Inov-8 Ultrapant weigh in at a teeny 81g; I can’t imagine I’ll use them to run in but they’ll be handy to have as another layer in camp if it’s cold.

Petzl E-lite – I use this as my back-up light for mandatory kit in long ultras and it weighs a minute 26g yet provides 50 lumens; I struggle to think of a better use of 26g of valuable rucksack weight!

Injinji and Drymax sock combo – I’ve used Injinji liners and Drymax socks on all my previous multi-day races and it’s simply a case of, if it’s not broken don’t fix it when it comes to socks.

As last time, my one ‘luxury’ item is a collapsible cup – no more cups of tea out of a half cut water bottle and it doubles up as a bowl to eat my freeze dried meals out of – it really is the height of luxury! Apart from that one item though, I’m pretty good at going back to basics and just take the absolute bare essentials. In an era of materialism (of which I’m as guilty of as the next person – yes I know I don’t NEED 24 pairs of trainers!), I find it really liberating to spend a week just managing with whatever you can carry on your back.

Nutrition

RTP specify you need to carry a minimum of 14,000 calories for the week (I’ll be carrying slightly more than this at around 14,500). I know from experience I need about 2,600 calories a day on days 1-4 and then about 3,000 calories for the long day on day 5, so I tend to use the bulk of my calorie allowance on days 1-5. I’m always hungry (and grumpy!) on day 6 (the rest day) but I know being so close to the finish line, that proper food is within touching distance.

For the fourth time I’ll be using Extreme Adventure Foods for breakfast and dinner which pack 800 calories into each meal. The remainder of my daily calories will come from Mountain Fuel Energy and Recovery drinks, Clif Bloks, GU Waffles, Kendal Mint Cake and KP Nuts – as I said earlier (and I learnt the hard way!) variety is key. They’re also items with a low weight/high calorie ratio – for 51 weeks of the year I couldn’t tell you the calorie content of any meal, yet in the build-up to a multi-day race I spend far too much time poring over food labels trying to gain a few calories and save a few grams! As a special ‘treat’ for after the long day, I’ve got a Pasta Mugshot Meal….it’s hard to describe, after living off freeze dried rations for 5 days, how good a 50p pasta meal tastes!

My rucksack will weigh just under 6.9kg (plus water) at the start, which is the lowest I’ve started a multi-day race with. I thought I’d struggle to get it under 7kg as RTP have added a few more mandatory items this time like waterproof trousers, an extra pair of socks and gloves, and an extra warm hat. However, after spending a LOT of time with a pair of kitchen scales and my ‘Patagonia rucksack weight’ spreadsheet pondering over where I could lose weight, I came up with a few weight saving techniques (eg. flip-flops for camp were deemed an unnecessary ‘luxury’ and my sunglasses will have to live on my head – do you know how much a sunglasses case weighs?!).

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Everything you need to run 155 miles across Patagonia

Training

The key things when training for a multi-day race are to get used to running with your rucksack and training on the most similar terrrain to the race you have to hand. A race that is in the Andes in Patagonia means hills are going to become your best friend. Fortunately, I spent all summer training for the CCC so my weekly ascent was much higher than normal (averaging around 20,000 feet per week in the peak weeks) so I already had a lot of hill training in my legs, and then working with my coach Ian Sharman, we just tailored the 7 weeks of training post-CCC recovery to make it specific to Patagonia.

Personally I find training for about 6 weeks with my weighted pack is the optimum time I need; running with an extra 7kg of weight does put extra stresses on the body so I don’t want to be doing it for too long, but 6 weeks is long enough for my body to get used to running with the extra weight. For the first couple of weeks I trained with 4.5kg and then for the remaining weeks I’ve been training with 7kg. Despite this being my fourth multi-day race, I did struggle with the weighted pack runs to start with (I think this was mainly due to having a bit of a post-CCC running hangover and my running not being at 100%), however after a couple of weeks of running with the extra weight it started to feel ‘normal’, and now I’ve grown quite used to lugging 7kg of chickpeas around with me!

I’ve been doing 3 weighted rucksack runs a week of varying distances from 7 miles to 20 miles, a couple of easy runs without the pack for general aerobic fitness,  daily weighted rucksack hikes (where I basically march up and down various hills in Brighton with 7kg of chickpeas in my rucksack and wonder why people have started calling me ‘chickpea girl’!) and then, as there’s only 15,000 feet of ascent over the 155 mile race, which means parts of the course are going to be very runnable, still incorporating one speedwork session a week.

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Standard multi-day training. Running round Sugarloaf Mountain in Wales with a load of chickpeas on my back.
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More chickpea training

I think there’s a bit of a misconception that because you’re going to be running 155 miles during race week, you have to run really high mileage in training for multi-day races. It’s more about the specificity of the training; so pack runs, back to back runs, and mirroring the terrain you’ll be running on. To prepare me for the hilly terrain, this time I wanted to aim for a minimum of 10,000 feet of ascent per week, so my four peak training weeks for Patagonia were 70 miles/13,891 feet, 77 miles/10,254 feet, 86 miles/12,497 feet and 69 miles/10,541 feet (the final week was slightly lower as I ran Beachy Head marathon as a training run as part of it).

I’ve had pretty good success with my last two multi-day races, so obviously it would be nice to continue the podium streak, but much more important to me is running with a big smile on my face and enjoying the whole experience, as these types of races are about so much more than just getting from A to B in the quickest time. Last time I did struggle a bit with the mental side of ‘racing’ every day to maintain my 2nd position in Atacama (it had been so much easier in Ecauador when nobody, least of all me, expected me to win!), but I’ve learnt from that experience and know not to get caught up with what anyone else is doing and just run my own race.

I’m down to my final few training runs, most of my kit is packed and will be coming with me as hand luggage (I do not want to be running around Bariloche the day before the race wondering where I can replace random items that got lost enroute!), and I’m just in the final excitable countdown to what I’m pretty sure is going to be a pretty special week of running.

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Pre-Race – It Began in a Hotel in Bariloche

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